Leaving both the SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas and the recent European SharePoint Conference in Copenhagen behind, Findwise continues sharing impressions about the new search in SharePoint 2013! We have previously given an overview of what is new in search in SharePoint 2013 and discussed Microsoft’s focus areas for the release. In this post, we focus more on the ranking of the search results using the query rules.
Understanding user intent in search is one of the key developments in the new release. The screenshots below, showing out-of-the-box functionality on some sample content, exemplify how the search engine adapts to the user query. Keywords such as ‘deck’, ‘expert’, or ‘video’ can express the user’s needs and expectations for different search results and information types, and what the search engine does in this case is promoting those results that have a higher probability to be relevant to the user’s search.
The adaptability of the search results can seem remarkable, as we see in these examples, aiming to provide more relevant search results through a better understanding of the user intent. Actually, this is powered by a new feature in SharePoint 2013 called query rules. Even more interesting maybe is that you can define your own custom query rules matching your specific needs without writing any code!
The simplest query rule would be to promote a specific result for a given search query. For example, you can promote a product’s instruction manual when the users search for that product name. Previously, in SharePoint 2010, you were able to define such promoted results (or “best bets”) using the Search Keywords. The query rules in SharePoint 2013 extend this functionality, providing an easy way to create powerful search experiences that adapt to user intent and business needs.
When defining a query rule, there are two main things to consider: conditions and corresponding actions. The conditions specify when the rule will be applied and the actions specify what to do when the rule is matched. There are six different condition types and three action types that can be defined.
For example, a query condition can be that a query keyword matches a specified phrase or a term from a dictionary (such as ‘picture’, ‘download’ or a product name from the term store), or that the query is more popular for a certain result type (such as images when for example searching for ‘cameras’), or that it matches a given regular expression (useful for matching phone numbers for example). The correlated actions can consist of promoting individual results on top of the ranked search results (promoting for example the image library), promoting a group of search results (such as image results, or search results federated from a web search engine), or changing the ranking of the search results by modifying the query (by changing the sorting of results or filtering on a content type). Another thing to consider is where you define the rule. Query rules can be created at Search Service Application, Site Collection, or Site level. The rules are inherited by default but you can remove, add, configure and change the order of query rules at each level. Fortunately, it also allows you to test a query and see which rules will fire.
There is one more thing though that you need to take into account: some features of query rules are limited in some of the licensing plans. Some plans only allow you to add the promoted results, and the more advanced actions on query rules are disabled. Check TechNet for guidelines on managing query rules and a list of features available across different licensing plans.
With the query rules, you have the freedom and power to change the search experience and adapt it to your needs. Defining the right keywords to be matched on the user queries and mapping the conditions with the relevant actions is easy but the process must undoubtedly be well managed. The management of the query rules should definitely be part of your SharePoint 2013 search governance strategy.
Let’s have a chat about how you can create great search experiences that match your specific users and business needs!